No Man Is An Island
“No man is an island”-John Donne
Speaking on the matter of current events, Egypt is in turmoil. Hosni Mubarak is a modern day pharaoh disregarding everything that his “loyal” subjects are requesting in the polite manner of rioting in streets. He pays no mind to the words of John Donne, an Englishman of the 1500s. Although he himself may be outdated, if you will, his words are not. Not that I am referencing to his entire anthology, but rather a clump of five words that have a particular relevance to Mubarak’s unjust reign. “No man is an island.” These are the words that “President” Mubarak disregards; although he may not know them at all. It wouldn’t be too surprising as he is a pristine example of what happens when a man is an island. Mind you, that is by no means literal. I don’t see how an island is fit to lead a nation. On that note, Donne is absolutely right in saying that no man is an island but for that matter, a man cannot be an island. It simply doesn’t work. (Especially if one were to take it literally. Honestly, how would that even make sense?)
The line can be interpreted in a number of ways, one of which being that no man can function as the solitary head of some such establishment, as I have briefly explained. If a man could sustain himself as an island (yet again I will implore you, dear reader, if you could please stay away from a literal interpretation?) then we, as a group of civilized individuals, would find ourselves yet again in the times of feudalistic societies where one man (or ring, depending on your pop culture preference) would rule them all. Now that we have, again as a society, established that that would not be just for us all, we have introduced this lovely little thing called democracy.
On another note, there is the idea that no man can be truly solitary. Henry David Thoreau, a philosopher of the 1800s, proved this theory to be correct after he decided to strive away from society for a good deal of time while he completed his infamous work Walden (which is quite impressive, mind you) with not a single soul for company. He stayed there for two years but eventually had enough and rejoined his fellow Massachusetts citizens in a functioning life. Although it appears that someone can be in solitary confinement, so to speak, for a good deal of time, it is by no means permanent. Which brings me to my next point, another view of this line. In a prison that most citizens would know by the name of Alcatraz, there was a solitary confinement installed where prisoners who misbehaved or did not abide by the given rules were placed in a box of sorts with no sunlight and no human contact for a given amount of time, depending on the offense. Prisoners who went in there once, more often than not, did everything in their power to stay out of there from then on. This supports Donne’s quote (although applied in a different way than originally intended) because no man can sustain himself in isolation for a long period of time. Although Thoreau’s stay in isolation was a much happier, peaceful time, it offers the same effect.
Carrying on from that thought, yet another example would be a psychological study conducted (or rather, a number of them) on a girl that went by the name of Genie. This was by no means an intentional study, but it resulted in (in my un-esteemed opinion) one of the most fascinating and tragic stories and studies of modern psychology. She was socially isolated until she was thirteen years old by abusive parents. Although this is most certainly not how Donne intended for his quote to be used, (considering how he lived in the 1500s and Genie was born in 1957) it is more than fitting and also provides a factual side to his quote. Genie was isolated, save for the occasional interaction with her abusive father by way of beatings, for thirteen years where she was hardly fed, never learned to speak, and is, for all intents and purposes, the feral child that she was called when she was first discovered in the early 1970s. She could barely be called human as she could hardly function, eat, relieve herself, or vociferate as a normal girl of thirteen years would be able to. Her inability to function due to what was deemed to be her social isolation is proof that indeed, no man (or woman, child, dog, cat, reptile, or fish) can be an “island” so to speak.
Those who are fortunate enough to return from their isolation as Henry D. Thoreau was are undoubtedly the beneficiaries of the tale. They can take from their solitary experiences and appreciate all that society and socializing is. Those who were not as fortunate, as Genie in particular was, are a way for we, as the descendents of men such as John Donne whose wisdom and eloquence precedes (or recedes, really, as here we are a good three hundred years later still discussing him and his work) them, to realize how true the words are and how they do and will apply forevermore. (In contrary to what the Raven quoth, which was nevermore.)